Player Rankings: Past, Present, Future!

On Episode 131 of the “In The Paint” Show (LISTEN HERE, WATCH BELOW), hosts Ronnie Flores, Ani Umana and Chelsea Hopkins break down national player rankings, an important topic and critical component of the grassroots basketball ecosystem since the 1970s, with three special guests: Clark Francis (Hoop Scoop), Paul Biancardi (ESPN) and Ian Jackson (Cardinal Hayes, Bronx, N.Y.).

RELATED:  “In The Paint” Podcast (Spotify)  | Ballislife Podcast Network (YouTube) | ITP Episode 131 (Spotify) |  ITP Episode 131 (YouTube) | Ballislife Player Profiles 

The first national scouting service was created in 1957 by the late Dave Bones and called the Cage Scope. The late Bill Cronauer (who passed in August of 2021) started his B/C Scouting Service in 1968 (on the recommendation and encouragement of college coach and tireless recruiting savant George Raveling) and was the first scout credited with traveling the country to evaluate prospects. The modern 5-star recruiting system was introduced by New York-based Howie Garfinkel, who began in 1963-64 and created his 5-Star Camp in August of 1966. Because of his work in scouting and his contributions to the game through his 5-Star Camps, “Garf” was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2021, five years after his death in May 2016 at 86.

Cronauer released player rankings throughout the 1970s and in 1979, Bob Gibbons of Lenoir, N.C., put a number next to each prospect. Clark Francis of the Hoop Scoop first put player rankings out in 1983 and he and Gibbons’ All-Star Sports rankings were well publicized and widely distributed throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Gibbons was the chairman for the selection committee for the NIKE Camp for 10 years (1985-1995) and for the NBPA Top 100 Camp when it started in 1994. If a player came out of Nike Camp as the top player, many considered him the No. 1 player in the country, which leads us to 2022 and Nick Smith of North Little Rock (Ark.).

The motivation for this week’s episode of the “In The Paint” Show on player rankings was spawned by Richard Davenport of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Davenport inquired about which credible rankings service regarded future NBA power forward Corliss Williamson of Russellville (Ark.) as the No. 1 prospect for the 1991-92 season. It became a hot topic in and around The Natural State after Smith finished 2021-22 as the nation’s No. 1 ranked prospect by 247Sports.com.

We recall Williamson in the conversation for No. 1, so we dug deeper on the Smith-Williamson topic.

Scout Van Coleman of Future Stars and Gibbons both rated Williamson as the top player at the 1991 Nike Camp. That’s where “The Big Nasty” is remembered 30 years later as the nation’s top player. At the time, Coleman told the Chicago Tribune he rated Williamson No. 1 based on his July showings but that by the end of the season point guard Jason Kidd of St. Joseph (Alameda, Calif.) could be the national player of the year and acknowledged No. 1 prospect.

Gibbons rated Williamson No. 2 in his final All-Star Sports rankings behind big man Othella Harrington of Murrah (Jackson, Miss.), while Francis had the future Arkansas Razorback No. 2 behind Kidd in his final Hoop Scoop rankings. Kidd was named Mr. Basketball USA and also earned Naismith Player of the Year honors. Williamson was named Gatorade National Player of the Year.

The ITP crew welcomed Francis on Episode 131 to talk player rankings in those early years and during its heyday in the 1990s when the competition on the camp circuit was at its peak. Francis also gives his take on the 1992 final rankings, offers his perspective on what the rankings mean and why they are important.

Biancardi, ESPN’s National Director of Basketball Recruiting, jumped on this week’s show to discuss the final 2022 class rankings and his rationale for ESPN’s final pecking order with Duke recruit Dereck Lively leading the way. Biancardi also talks about the rankings from the perspective of a former college coach and how his experience in that aspect of the game helps him create ESPN’s widely distributed rankings.

So in retrospect, is Williamson a player who can be looked at as the No. 1 prospect 30 years after he finished at Russellville? Or is it revisionist history?

“Yes, that player can be considered No. 1, but it’s the final analysis that counts,” Francis said. “You can be the best player at a Nike, Adidas, or Reebok camp, or in December at a big tournament, but what everyone remembers is based upon where you were ranked at the end.”

“The Razorback fans have been excited about Nick for the past few seasons, but to see him elevated to top 10 status nationally this year, the excitement grew,” Davenport said. “Then the final rankings came out and seeing him at number two (Rivals.com) and number three (ESPN.com) in the country took it to another level and it went beyond that when he was announced number one (247Sports).”

And it’s not just Smith that University of Arkansas fans are going giddy over. It’s coach Eric Musselman bringing in what many consider the second best recruiting class in the nation behind Duke. It has the state clamoring for a return to the glory years under coach Nolan Richardson when the Hogs went to three final fours in six years and won the 1994 NCAA title in Williamson’s sophomore season.

“Seeing the Hogs have three 5-star signees and the No. 1 player nationally, the expectations for Arkansas basketball is back to the level of the Nolan Richardson glory days,” Davenport said. “I think at the end of the day, most fans see the final rankings being the most important. That considers the full body of work of the prospects in each class. Being great at anything requires consistency and Nick showed that.”

Speaking of consistency, Jackson, the 2022 Ballislife National Sophomore of the Year from Cardinal Hayes (Bronx, N.Y.), comes on the ITP Show to talk about his consistently spectacular 2021-22 high school season after COVID-19 took away his freshman campaign. Jackson also talks development, who he patterns his game after and his experiences with USA Basketball. Jackson is currently ranked No. 3 by both ESPN and Rivals and No. 2 by 247Sports.

Editor’s Note: The final All-Star Sports and Hoop Scoop ranking for players through the years can be viewed on individual Ballislife profiles. CLICK HERE or click on the PROFILES tab on the Ballislife.com main navigation menu.

RELATED:  “In The Paint” Podcast (Spotify)  | Ballislife Podcast Network (YouTube) | ITP Episode 131 (Spotify) |  ITP Episode 131 (YouTube) | Ballislife Player Profiles 

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